Saturday 24 March 2018

Alan Hansen: This is the biggest Merseyside derby in 30 years

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers

It would not be overstating the magnitude of Tuesday’s Merseyside derby by suggesting it is the biggest league encounter between Liverpool and Everton for almost 30 years.

In terms of the balance of power in the city, and what victory or defeat would mean for either club, I cannot remember the three points carrying so much importance since Gary Lineker scored in front of the Kop to round off a 2-0 win for Everton at Anfield in February 1986.

That victory took Everton, the league champions at the time, eight points clear of my Liverpool team, giving them a seemingly unassailable lead in the title race.

But at the end of the season, Liverpool not only overhauled Everton to win the title, we also beat them at Wembley in the first all-Merseyside FA Cup final to secure the Double.

Liverpool and Everton will not be battling out for the title on Tuesday night, but with the two teams harbouring genuine prospects of Champions League qualification this season, it is a massive game and without doubt the biggest derby since the Eighties.

It is a much bigger game for Everton, however, because they have to overcome history and their opponents if they are to win at Anfield and put themselves in pole position for that Champions League spot.

Psychologically, Roberto Martinez’s team must blank out Everton’s terrible record at Anfield in order to win the game.

David Moyes could never guide Everton to victory at Anfield during his 11 years in charge, and their winless run dates back to 1999, so it would be no surprise if everyone connected with the club were to view trips across Stanley Park with trepidation.

Under Martinez, though, Everton have exceeded all expectations this season and his approach to the game at Goodison Park in November highlighted the change of approach which could lead them to victory on Tuesday night.

With the score 2-2 entering the final 15 minutes, Martinez could easily have settled for a draw, but he made two substitutions and went for broke. Everton scored a third to take the lead and were only denied victory when Daniel Sturridge equalised in the 89th minute.

Martinez has certainly made an impact at Goodison. His loan moves for Romelu Lukaku, Gareth Barry and Gerard Deulofeu have all been successful, with Barry proving to be one of the signings of the season.

He has also put his faith in a young Ross Barkley midfield, a teenager who is going to become a phenomenal player.

But for their hopes of a top-four finish to remain alive, Everton simply cannot afford to lose at Anfield and that is why this derby is all about them.

While a defeat would hurt Liverpool, they have the ability to recover and push on again.

But losing would see Everton drop four points off the pace, with Manchester United potentially closing to within two points of them with a win at home to Cardiff.

Everton are too good to fall away completely, but it would be a long way back if they were to endure another fruitless trip to Anfield.

The confidence that would come from winning could propel Everton to the incredible achievement of finishing fourth, however.

When Graeme Sharp scored a wonder goal for Everton in a 1-0 win at Anfield in October 1984, it was the first time Liverpool had lost a home derby in 14 years. It was a new experience for me because, prior to that season, Everton were not very good and derbies were just battles in which the ball would never be on the floor. It was ‘kill or be killed’. But Howard Kendall’s team were a great side with some fantastic players and after winning that game at Anfield, they went on to win the league that season. Everton could gain similar belief if they end their awful run against Liverpool on Tuesday.

The mid-Eighties was the start of a period during which both clubs battled it out for the big honours, when every game mattered in terms of deciding titles and cups.

In the modern era, the prize of playing in the Champions League has become as sought after as silverware and it matters enormously to both clubs.

The importance of qualification is different for Liverpool and Everton, however.

From Everton’s perspective, they may find it hard to hold on to the likes of Lukaku and Barry unless they make it into the top four.

For Liverpool, playing alongside Europe’s elite means everything to the club and returning to that stage would give them the opportunity to build and ensure it becomes a regular occurrence once again.

Evertonians do not want that to happen and they have a team capable of not only denying Liverpool, but claiming the prize their neighbours desperately want.

There is so much at stake, but the margins are narrower for Everton.

Online Editors

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